I-Spy Trip Report 23rd-25th September

28th Oct 2014

Bay of Biscay 23rd – 25th September 2014 (Portsmouth – Santander – Plymouth)

ORCA Guides: Elfyn Pugh, Dave Cunniffe, Paul Burley and Glenn Overington
Wildlife Officers: Anna Bunney, Julia Benson

Summary of Sightings

Species Number Sighted
Fin Whale 2
Unidentified Rorqual Blow 4
Minke Whale 1
Pilot Whale  2
Common Dolphin 238
Striped Dolphin 90
Unidentified Dolphin 105
Harbour Porpoise 5

The sense of anticipation amongst both guests and ORCA guides was tangible as we met at Portsmouth in readiness for another trip across the Bay of Biscay. Check-in procedures were completed before we boarded the ship and began to settle in and think about the coming journey. Once again the weather was forecast to be kind and this would certainly assist us as we looked for marine wildlife on our journey.  A familiarization of the ship and our viewing area completed, guests were invited to attend an instructive talk about ORCA, the Bay of Biscay and it’s wildlife, to prepare us for the days ahead. Then it was time to relax and ready ourselves for tomorrow’s wildlife watching.

- Common Dolphin (Glenn Overington)

We were on deck and watching in the half light before sunrise the next morning. Readying the GPS, survey forms and Admiralty chart which would allow us to record our hoped for sightings and locations and allow guests to track our progress and the marine encounters throughout the trip, displayed in a very visual format.

- Common Dolphin (Glenn Overington)

Almost immediately, we began to encounter small groups of Common Dolphins as we headed south towards the Northern continental shelf edge. There were regular sightings of this species only interrupted by a single Ocean Sunfish as we neared the shelf ‘drop-off’.  Over the shelf we had a brief sighting of an unidentified ‘whale’ species, however then, interestingly (as with last week’s trip), things went quiet for a while as we passed over the contours and into the deeper waters - an area where we would hope usually to see more activity. 2 Pilot Whales were seen however as we moved into the 4000 metre depths of the Abyssal Plain.

- Ocean Sunfish (Glenn Overington)

In the plain itself we saw our first larger whale – a Fin Whale an animal that always causes a ripple of excitement, this was followed swiftly by our first Striped Dolphins – a beautiful and often acrobatic dolphin, typical of these deep waters.

- Striped Dolphins (Glenn Overington)

A quieter period followed, with an absence of sightings, possibly due to the military exercise we became aware of as we approached the area east of the Jovellanos Seamount. However directly east of the mount we encountered further Striped Dolphins before our 2nd Fin Whale and shortly after some large hunting (Yellowfin) Tuna as we passed over the mouth of the Torrelavega Canyon – one of the deep trenches leading to the Southern self edge directly off the Northern coast of Spain. A beautiful female Merlin banked and swept over the ship looking for an opportunity maybe to prey on one of the south migrating passerines often around the ferry. Further towards the shelf edge we encountered more dolphins (this time unidentified) and an (again) unidentified (possible Beaked) Whale before entering the harbour, where we located the Peregrine Falcon which regularly perches on the Lighthouse at Santander.

Following our relaxing break in Santander we returned to the ship for our return journey north. Unfortunately at this time of year there is insufficient light in the evenings to watch and therefore we prepared ourselves for tomorrow’s events.

Early morning and excellent conditions find us in the show waters off the coast of Brittany, and almost immediately we encounter Harbour Porpoise. Once again we are ‘joined’ by small groups of Common Dolphins and these sightings remain almost constant as we round the islands of La Sein off the Brittany coast. Good, but typically brief views, of a Minke whale are had before we reach and carefully navigate through the wonderful landscapes and rugged beauty of the islands and lighthouses of Ouessant, where we find a further group of Common Dolphins. There is still time to enjoy yet more encounters with Common Dolphins and another Ocean Sunfish before we get together on deck to review the trip sightings, including the many seabirds and migrants, and begin to say our goodbyes before we reach our final destination at Plymouth.

Many thanks to the Captain and crew of Brittany Ferries' Pont Aven.  We look forward to welcoming guests on our trips in 2015!

Wildlife Checklist

Other Marine Life
Ocean Sunfish 2
Yellow-Finned Tuna 5

Birds at Sea (including Migrants)
Storm Petrel
Great Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater
Great Skua (Bonxie)
Grey Phalarope
Mediterranean Gull
Sabine’s Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Sandwich Tern
‘Commic’ (Common or Arctic) Tern
Meadow Pipit
Reed Warbler
House Martin

Other Wildlife at Sea
Peacock Butterfly